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Watch the Barry's Ballet online guitar lesson by David Hamburger from 50 Jazz-Blues Licks You MUST Know

As a would-be jazz musician straight off the boat in New York, I had a handful of experiences with musicians I had absolutely no business being around, and while mortifying at the time (for the most part), I did manage to learn a thing or two while adding a name to my life list of Scary Musicians I Can Say I’ve Been In The Presence Of, For Better Or Worse - including Barry Harris, who ran a school of sorts on the West Side of Manhattan in the 1980s called the Jazz Cultural Theatre.

I spent a short, somewhat enlightening afternoon there one cold winter day in 1987, getting a first-hand introduction to Harris’ philosophy of bebop harmony. The ideas made sense, and if I’d spent the past two and a half decades implementing them I’d probably kind of of be able to do something with them right about now. Such is hindsight. But my favorite Barry Harris story is one he tells himself, recounted in David Rosenthal’s Hard Bop, about how, after playing on Lee Morgan’s "The Sidewinder," Harris went up to the offices at Blue Note to ask for his own recording contract. Alfred Lion turned him down, on the grounds that Harris’ playing was "too beautiful." The pianist’s response? "I thanked him and walked out."